By Luke FoxIn 1997, Damon Dash and friend/producer Ski Beatz were high off working on a certified classic hip-hop album. The momentum of Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt, had spurred the Roc-A-Fella team to work on its shiny, anticipated follow-up, Jay's In My Lifetime Vol. 1. In 1997, another rapper on another coast had also entered the scene. Murs dropped his solo debut, F'Real, that year on little known indie Veritech. Situated on separate coasts with vastly disparate levels of media attention and SoundScan stats, it seemed unlikely that Murs and Dame Dash would ever do business together. But fast-forward 14 years, and both men have endured in rap long enough for their paths to intersect. The result? Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation, a Murs album on Dash's new label, produced entirely by Ski Beatz. We called Murs on the day the prolific MC's latest project was released. Two weeks deep into his 52-city Hip Hop & Love tour, Murs shared his thoughts on everything from Dash to AIDS, from marriage to the best advice he didn't take from his mom.
The new album just dropped today. Will you be checking the numbers at all? I checked the preorders, and I'm-a check once today when I get back to the bus, then I'll leave it alone. It gets a little intense.
Do you have a most memorable release date? The first one. Not my first record ever, but the first one that was in Best Buy and all of that ― that was pretty exciting.
What separates this record from your past catalogue? Different production. This is the first time I've worked with Ski Beatz.
Did you reach out to him, or did he reach out to you? I reached out to Damon Dash, who put out the record, and [Ski] does all the records on Damon's label [DD172/BluRoc], so it was Damon who arranged the situation.
Was there an instant connection between you and Ski Beatz? It took a while. I think we're still figuring each other out.
You've done these types of projects before, with 9th Wonder and on your Felt records with Slug ― pick one single producer and create an entire album. What's the biggest advantage of going the one-producer route? It's easier for the listener to get into the moment. People become fans of the entire album, not just fans of certain songs.
What differences do you notice between how 9th and Ski work? 9th Wonder works quicker. Ski is more loose, I would say.
How much input do they have in the way you spit or the subjects you take on? 9th and I have been working together a while now, so he feels more comfortable talking about what he feels I should be rapping about sometimes. With Ski, there wasn't a lot of input on what I was saying. Delivery, definitely there was some coaching on that. But mostly he handled the beats, I handled the rhymes.
How did you and Dame Dash connect? A lot of people would put you two on different ends of the hip-hop spectrum. There was a time when we were; I don't think that's the case now. I was introduced to him through Tabi Bonney ― an artist I'm a fan of, I've toured with and we worked together a bit. I said that I wanted to meet him. And in the first three-to-five minutes, me and Damon had already planned this album and a 50-state tour together. He's very similar to me in his desire to be creative and make things happen.
How familiar was Dame with your work? Not at all. Neither was Ski.
Wow. Really? Yeah.
Did they go back and listen to your songs before making a deal? Nah. Damon was like, "Obviously you know what you're doing. People like it. Do what you do. I don't care about radio. I just want to make something fun, creative and dope. And you already seem like a creative guy." Especially at that time I had my hair [dreadlocks that have since been chopped off], and I don't think anyone could look at my hair and assume that I wasn't a creative individual.
What did you learn from the whole Warner Bros. situation? I have a more complete understanding of the record industry. I'm not of the same mentality where the industry is the devil out to get us. There's really a lot of good people who work at labels who want to put out good music, but at the same time they're run by a board of directors who keep them from going bankrupt like Def Jux. But at the same time, they're a lot less creative than Def Jux. When you don't have the freedom to spend money or act as quickly as an indie label, you lose some of that creativity, but you save some of that money. At Def Jux it was all heart and not a lot of discipline. When someone loves music, they're not always the most disciplined ― and discipline is what keeps the business going.
If you had to do it over, would you still sign with a major? Definitely. Every time. I'm not big into regrets, especially when no one dies. I learned a lot. I became a better artist and a better human being for it. I met a lot of great people and worked with a lot of great people because of it. Plus, I worked on perfecting my craft.